Getting Back into Ivalice!
Ivalice has to be one of the most compelling locations for a video game series ever. Sure, you may love Mana, Gaia, or even the vast universe of Kingdom Hearts, but it seems that of all the worlds created by Square-Enix, Ivalice has become the most expansive. It has been the setting for Final Fanasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, and has inspired its own spinoff series: the Ivalice Alliance. Now this magical realm is the setting for the follow-up to the acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and it does nothing but improve upon this emerging series’ demonstrated quality.
The game starts off with the main character opening up a magical book. This book transports him right into the middle of a battle in Ivalice. Tactics fans may remember Ivalice as being war-torn or suffering extreme political unrest in Final Fantasy XII, but Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift’s storyline is much less intricate and very low-key. Instead of focusing on complex allegiances, the game tells a very simple story about the main character trying to get back to his home universe. The story is told through a vast amount of quests and many times takes a backseat to the action in this title, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although your heart may not exactly bleed for the characters in the story, you will log several hours and get to know them all very well.
One of the best features of Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift’s is the sheer amount of quests you can go on. The structure of the game is very much like the original Final Fantasy Tactics and has a far-reaching over world with pubs, shops, and battlefields being the only accessible areas. Final Fantasy fans may be somewhat disappointed that there is no exploration value in this title, but the fact that this game focuses exclusively on the tactics with no deviation is actually a good thing. It proves that this title knows its audience and gives tactics fans exactly what they want with nothing extraneous included.
So now let’s talk about tactics. Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift’s tactics very closely resemble those of the first Final Fantasy Tactics Advance in that they are very intricate but much simpler and easier to manage than the original. There are several pros and cons to this, depending on your tactical aptitude. If you’re like me and get a certain thrill out of meticulously customizing and updating party stats and rosters like in Final Fantasy Tactics, then you might be a little disappointed with the tactics here. The job system is still firmly in place, but abilities are automatically upgraded and equipped, and you won’t have job points to spread out. This really reduces the difficulty level, but is probably more practical and conducive to non-hardcore tacticians.
However, fans of the original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (and fans of tactical RPGs in general) will probably be very delighted with the clan judicial system, which remains intact from the original. The judicial system works by having a clan judge preside over battles. The judge will set certain rules for battles that will limit the type of action you can take. Rules will often prohibit the use of a certain weapon, spell, or item, and can completely change your pre-existing tactics. But don’t worry, if you follow the rules, your team does get a benefit in the form of temporary stat upgrades. These upgrades come into effect immediately and go away when the battle has completed or if you break the rules. If you do decide to break the rules, the punishment is much harsher than just losing your temporary stat upgrade. Characters who fall during battle will be immediately put in prison and will be unable to be revived. While this doesn’t sound too bad, trust me, it affects the gameplay pretty quickly. Because characters are automatically adopted into clans as soon as they become a part of your party there is really no way to opt out of the judicial system, but it does make for some interesting gameplay dynamics and makes this title really stand out among other tactical RPGs.
Another thing that makes Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift stand out from other titles is it’s sheer length. As I said before, the gameplay is made up of quests, and you won’t encounter any part of the game that really deviates from the quest structure. But the good news is there are 300 individual quests, and with each one clocking in from about half an hour to almost two hours (depending on difficulty and battle style), if you go for 100% completion, you will be playing this game for quite a while. While you could feasibly stick to the story quests and be done with this game in twenty hours, one of the real joys of this title is playing to completion, a feat which will probably provide you with at least fifty hours of gameplay.
Visuals in this title maintain Square Enix’s high standards when it comes to handheld graphics, especially on the DS. Environments and characters come to life in bright colors with a reasonable amount of detail. One thing I did miss from the graphics in this title that was very appealing in last year’s Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and this year’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates was the amazing opening cutscene. Both of these titles had an extremely detailed and superbly animated CG movie. However, considering the length of this title in comparison to the former two, it is understandable that due to space constraints on the DS cart, such an amazing cutscene might have been cut out of necessity rather than style or oversight.
Sound in Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is very impressive, and fans of the Ivalice Alliance will at once recall new arrangements of some of their favorite tunes. The music is a very tasteful implementation of “fan service” and, as a longtime fan, I really appreciated that they didn’t go overboard trying to appease everyone who ever played a Final Fantasy Tactics or Ivalice Alliance title.
But music isn’t the only thing fans will recognize in Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. Several characters from Final Fantasy XII will make cameo appearances and a handful, including Vaan and Penelo, will actually be playable. Diehard Ivalice fans will also recognize several locations that are a familiar nod to other Ivalice-set games.
Overall, I don’t think I could have been more pleased with Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. It is a solid title that will please both fans of the Ivalice Alliance as well as those who enjoyed the original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. It is a great crossover title and has appeal both as an Ivalice adventure and as a full-throttle tactics title. While it may not have the pungent story Ivalice fans have come to expect or the extreme tactics Final Fantasy Tactics fans might have wanted, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift stands on its own as a great blend of these two sub-series and is one of the most lengthy and rewarding tactical RPGs to date. It is definitely a must-buy for fans of Final Fantasy or tactical gameplay, and even regular RPG fans will find some real enjoyment out of this one.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Gameplay looks very good but lacks the detailed cinematic scenes found in other Final Fantasy titles for the DS. 4.1 Control
Button controls work well and stylus controls aren’t too shabby either. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is easily one of the best features of the game. Fans of the Ivalice Alliance will definitely recognize some of the melodies in the game, which is a great nod to longtime fans of the series. 4.9
This game is both immersive and long. With an almost limitless amount of non-linear quests, you could easily log fifty hours or more, which is quite impressive considering the title’s handheld nature.
4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.